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This review is from: Across the Bridge (DVD)If your friend - the film buff - tries to overwhelm you with his or her knowledge of some obscure classic, ask him or her to offer an opinion about "Across the Bridge." Don't be surprised if the film expert suddenly goes blank and says that he or she is unaware of the film, so why is it so impressive. But make no mistake, this is a terrific classic - and a thinking person's movie.
One of the 20th century's best method actors - Rod Steiger - felt that, along with "The Pawnbroker", this was his finest film. Explain to your film buff that just like "The Third Man", this British film is based on a short story of Graham Greene. Tell him or her that the film directors and critics in Britain were deeply impressed with the movie at the time it was initially screened and thought it was one of the best "Rank" production in years. But most of all, form your own opinion of the merits of the movie.
Time and Place? 1956, New York City. The story involves an international businessman who discovers that Scotland Yard is investigating his involvement in a major financial scandal and loss of funds. Thinking he is one step ahead of everyone, the businessman has already prepared for this eventuality. Carl Schaffner (Rod Steiger) has stashed away one million dollars in Mexico in the event he needs to run; therefore he quickly and calmly boards a train to go across the border. There is more than a little hint that Carl Schaffner may not even be the capitalist's real name and that in Germany he was a former Nazi officer.
On the train, Schaffner accidentally meets an American - Paul Scarff (Bill Nagy) - who is planning to meet his wife. Unlike Carl Schaffner...Mr. Scarff has a Mexican passport. So Schaffner gets Mr. Scarff unconscious with alcohol and drugs, and viciously pushes him out of the train...all to assume his identity. Later on, he discovers the explosive fact that Mr. Scarff himself is a fugitive. Scarff is being sought in Mexico for political assassination. Worse than that, there is a big price on his head.
When Carl Schaffner - posing as Mr. Scarff - arrives in Mexico, his driver reports him to the authorities so as to obtain the ransom. Now Scarff/Schaffner has to persuade the Mexican police that he is a lawbreaker, yes, but just the ruthless business capitalist....not the killer.
There are many twists and turns in this story, including the fact that Carl Schaffner is stuck with Paul Scarff's dog, an animal which initially rejects him. In Mexico the authorities toy with Schaffner and reduce him to poverty. The Mexican police captain played by Noel Willman - whose experience is as a Shakespearean actor - gives an immense performance. Ostensibly polite, he creates a net of terror for Carl Schaffner. It is the captain's silences that have the most power.
The experience is life-changing for Carl Schaffner. A lot of credit goes to the film director in creating situations where even the audience can sympathize with the misfortunes befalling this reprehensible man. And yes, the ending is a stunner..it will last in your mind forever.
I simply cannot say enough good things about this film - I believe it is close to the quality of some of the best film noirs and even of Hitchcock's oevre. Every minute of the film is pregnant with suspense. True, the cinematography is adequate, not extraordinary. The dialogue contains no intriguing crackling lines as in, let's say, "Double Indemnity" or "Sunset Blvd". Nevertheless... at all times the characters turn out to be quite believable. In this film more than one man is "on the take", but there are definitely individuals of integrity...even some small goodness in Carl Schaffner.